Skip to main content

Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site. Why trust us?

Be a wuss: Pixar movies make you cry, and that’s OK

If you’re a cynic, you probably walked out of Coco convinced that you’d just been manipulated. You may have found the opening minutes of Up to be cloying and sentimental, or you might think that, as beautiful as some parts of Soul may be, it’s all a little bit obvious. Pixar movies became a dominant force in our cultural conversations as soon as we first met Woody and Buzz in 1995, and since the very beginning, the storytellers at the studio have been remarkably good at making adults cry like babies.

In more recent years, the weeping that many come to expect from a great Pixar movie has begun to feel like a trap to some. Critics argue that Pixar adheres too closely to the formula it established in its earliest days, and that it’s too reliant on sentiment and preening to move its audience. All of that might be true, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the experience of a good Pixar cry is not worthwhile.

UP: Stuff I'm Going to Do

Boys don’t cry — we all do

Perhaps the best recent example of a great Pixar weepy is Coco, a movie about Miguel, a young member of a Mexican family who discovers that his family’s deceased patriarch is misunderstood and on the verge of being forgotten completely. The movie’s emotional climax comes in the form of a song, one that Miguel sings to his great grandmother in the hopes that she will remember her father, who disappeared when she was still a child.

This moment is deeply affecting, and it also adheres pretty strictly to what Pixar almost always pulls off near the climax of its stories: A character who was once misunderstood asserts the right to make themselves heard, and the protagonist learns a lesson about empathy or history or what it means to continue to love the people you’ve lost.

Joy shows Sadness a bright ball in Inside Out.

Inside Out provides another recent example. The movie’s thematic content is all about the emotions of a teenager, represented by five characters living inside her head. Joy, the film’s protagonist, spends most of the running time trying to keep control and ensure that Riley, the girl she’s living inside of, remains happy above all else. It’s Joy’s panic at losing control that kicks off the movie’s plot, and the film’s emotional climax is her realization that Riley’s other emotions, and Sadness in particular, also have a role to play in guiding Riley toward a fulfilling emotional life.

At its core, all Inside Out is really telling audiences is that being sad is OK, but the film delivers that message so artfully that it feels like a revelation. The same holds in Coco, a movie that is really just about how sad it is to lose someone you love. These are not complicated ideas, but they work on both kids and adults because, at its best, Pixar is so smart about deploying its unsubtle themes through its characters.

Simple yet universal messages

There are some who find the simplicity and overt sentiment of Pixar’s core themes cloying, but one of the reasons the studio has found such success within a pretty standard formula is because everyone can find something in the stories it tells. However, that can strip away some elements of individual experience, but Pixar has started to bridge that gap, albeit haltingly.

Coco focuses on a distinctly Mexican experience, Soul is about a Black man in Harlem, and Turning Red is perhaps the most radical movie of them all, taking Pixar’s storytelling conventions and creating a story that is hyper-attuned to the specific rhythms of a child of Chinese immigrants.

Ming Lee looks concerned in Turning Red (2022)
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Something like Turning Red suggests how Pixar can evolve without abandoning the successes that have brought it to its dominant place in the entertainment industry. The movie has universal themes about the relationships between mothers and daughters, but it is inflected with the specific experience that some Chinese kids may have with domineering mothers. It’s a classic empathy machine, allowing you to find points of similarity against a backdrop that may be wildly different from your own.

Exceptions to the rule

Of course, Pixar’s tear machine does not work on every person every time. The entire Cars universe feels more like a cynical cash grab than a genuine attempt to tell good stories, and Lightyear feels like one of the strangest IP extensions to come out in the past decade, and that’s saying something.

If a specific Pixar movie makes you well up involuntarily, though, there’s no shame in giving in. Our emotions are not always within our control, and even if your brain knows that you’re being manipulated by the story you’re watching, it may not be able to stop you from crying anyway. Those tears are real, and they come from a recognition that the story you’re being told is one that has a deep truth about how you see the world.

Sully says good-bye to Boo in Monsters, Inc.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

It’s undeniably true, then, that Pixar movies are often simple, blunt instruments designed to communicate basic truths about the world. What’s also true, though, is that as obvious as some of those truths may be, many, many people need something like a Pixar movie to help them face those truths head on.

If you’re a father trying to protect their child from a scary world, the fact that Finding Nemo is just about the difficulty of letting go doesn’t make watching the movie any less profound. If you’re struggling with your sense of purpose in life and your work, the fact that Toy Story only tiptoes up to acknowledging that everyone dies eventually doesn’t make watching the movie any less moving for you.

Toy story 3 Andy gives his toys away

Movies are designed to allow you to see yourself in the stories of others, and to help you feel things that you may work hard not to feel during your everyday existence. Pixar at its best is incredibly good at making you feel something, even if that something is resentment at how teary-eyed you’ve become. If you want to be resentful, you’re more than welcome to, but we shouldn’t be mad at Pixar just because they know how to unlock doors we want to keep closed.

You can view the entire Pixar library on Disney+. To check out that studio’s latest releases, please read our what’s new on Disney+ list.

Editors' Recommendations

Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
The best movies on Max right now
Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron as Max and Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Thanks to its densely packed library, Max is among the best mainstream platforms to stream movies. The streamer's catalog boasts an impressive range of diversity, ranging from modern hits to classics that have stood the test of time. That's also thanks to the platform's offerings running the gamut of genres, guaranteeing that every kind of viewer will find at least a handful of titles to suit their tastes.

With how competitive the streaming market has become in recent years, variety has become all the more important. Warner Bros. Discovery's service thankfully offers that in an accessible manner, but if you find yourself struggling to know where to start, we've curated a consistently updated guide on the best movies to stream on Max.

Read more
3 underrated sci-fi movies on Amazon Freevee you should watch in December
A man looks back as he walks forward in a scene from Enter Nowhere.

The best part about Amazon Freevee is that, well, it’s free. The streaming service, offered through Amazon, allows you to access tons of great, classic movies from years past. The only catch is that they come with ads. That’s no big deal, though, since these short breaks are perfect for quick bathroom runs or snack and drink refills.

When it comes to the sci-fi genre, Amazon Freevee has tons of options. Some are high-profile and others are movies you might never have heard of, but fit right in with your tastes. The three underrated sci-fi movies on Amazon Freevee you should watch in December include a surrealistic thriller, an action comedy, and a psychological thriller involving a temporal paradox. If you're looking for more choices and have an Amazon Prime subscription or you're thinking of getting one, check out the best movies on Amazon Prime.
Cruel & Unusual (2014)
Cruel & Unusual Official Movie Trailer #1 (2014) - David Richmond-Peck Mystery Movie HD

Read more
The best animated movies on Netflix right now
Mario and Luigi celebrating in The Super Mario Bros. Movie.

There's no chance that Netflix could have planned it this way, but the top two theatrical animated films of 2023 are both currently streaming on the platform. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse joined Netflix's lineup on Halloween, and now The Super Mario Bros. Movie is here as well. That's quite a one-two punch. And that's not all that Netflix has in its arsenal. The original animated film, Leo, is another recent addition. Wish Dragon and The Boxtrolls have both been around for a while longer, but we're throwing the spotlight on those films as well.

Unfortunately, December will also be the last month that Megamind, The Adventures of Tintin, The Road to El Dorado, Kung Fu Panda, Sing 2, and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit are streaming on Netflix. That's a lot of great movies to lose all at once, but the new additions should make up for it for now. Keep reading for our full list of the best animated movies on Netflix. Then, check back in early 2024 as more animated movies arrive.

Read more